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The mysterious microbial ecosystem beneath our feet: Unravelling the groundwater microbiology archive

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 16, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This FRESH CDT project aims to provide the first overview of the UK’s groundwater microbial ecosystem. Groundwater constitutes 99% of all accessible freshwater on the planet and is a vital resource for public water supply in the UK. It contains a little-studied indigenous microbial ecosystem responsible for the cycling of nutrients and a food-source for blind subterranean macroinvertebrates. These ecosystems are increasingly under pressure due to population growth, urbanisation, and climate change, which can all modify the ecosystem assemblage.

This project seeks to explore the:
• The abundance of subterranean archaeal, prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbes and their activity within our UK aquifers
• Investigate the range of microbial diversity
• Understand environmental controls on both microbial abundance and diversity

The student, in collaboration with the project partner (Thames Water) and a range of other UK water utility companies, will collect samples from a representative range of public and private water supplies across the country. Groundwater samples will be analysed using flow cytometry to determine bacterial cell abundance and activity. High throughout sequencing of the 16S and 18S rRNA genes will be used to characterise the molecular diversity of archaea, bacteria and eukaryotic microbes. Linkages to environmental variables will be assessed using existing national groundwater hydrochemical datasets and analysis of new samples. Groundwater age will also be investigated as an environmental control as we have groundwater ranging from modern to many thousands of years old in the UK.

The research student will be registered for PhD at Cardiff University (CU) and integrated into the BGS/CEH/Cardiff University research teams. The project will be based at BGS/CEH Wallingford, Oxfordshire where the student will work alongside a broad spectrum of scientists and other students, have access to excellent research infrastructure, and be eligible for UKRI training opportunities. In addition, the student will spend time in the University supervisor’s research group at Cardiff School of Biosciences (Organisms & Environment Division), and progression though PhD will be monitored by CU. Student training will be directed by the supervisory team and will also involve members of their respective research groups, along with dedicated courses, where appropriate. The mix of elements will depend upon the individual’s prior knowledge, expertise and needs, guided by a skills gap analysis. In addition to the project specific expertise, the student will benefit from the training though extensive skills courses that are an integral part of the FRESH CDT, along with more general graduate courses, such as those offered by through the Cardiff University Water Research Institute, GW4 Water Security Alliance and CU’s Graduate College.

We welcome applications from a wide-range of scientific backgrounds, with supervisory support to cover skills gaps from James Sorensen and Dr Mike Jones (hydrogeology), Prof Daren Gooddy (hydrochemistry), Dr Dan Read and Prof Andrew Weightman (microbiology). Applications should be made via the FRESH CDT website link below. For any queries, please contact James Sorensen ().

Funding Notes

Studentships will last for 3.5 years full-time or the equivalent period part-time.

Applicants must demonstrate an outstanding academic record: at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree or equivalent, or relevant masters degree.

NERC-funded studentships are subject to UKRI eligibility requirements. In short, you should be a citizen of the UK or other EU country and have been residing in the UK for the last 3 years (apart from temporary or occasional absences).

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